A challenge on multiple fronts
Just as restaurants might become overwhelmed by the many faces of sustainability, their partnering companies must also juggle multiple initiatives. LaMotte says one of the trickiest tasks for distributors and management companies is the being-everything-to-everyone conundrum. One restaurant client might pursue sustainability by curbing their energy consumption, while another chases the same goal but by reducing their carbon footprint. All aspects of sustainability lead back to a central goal, but the entry points can be far apart. The broader Soedxo’s customer base, the broader its approach to sustainability has to be, LaMotte says.
A number of restaurants also employ a holistic methodology in building greener supply chains. For nearly four decades, Southern California–based concept Rubio’s Coastal Grill has sourced wild Alaskan pollock for its tacos. The whitefish, which has a mild, cod-like taste, is considered one of the more sustainable species, a reputation that has elevated its appeal in recent years. Accreditations from Alaska Responsible Fisheries Management and Best Aquaculture Practices guide the brand in its vendor selection. It also collaborates with organizations like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Marine Stewardship Council.
Seafood might be at the crux of Rubio’s sustainability practices, but it’s not alone.
“Our focus on sustainability ranges from our seafood to land proteins to packaging,” says Angela Scheufele, director of supply chain for Rubio’s. Napkins, paper towels, and tissue are made of 100 percent compostable fiber. Last year, the chain used more than 122 metric tons of recycled fiber in these products.
But, the pandemic disrupted Rubio’s otherwise stable supply chain. Shortages across the board—product, labor, transportation—plus commodity inflation and volatility have made for a challenging two years. The experience reinforced not just how important Rubio’s vendor relationships are but also the value of having backups.
“We have always believed in the benefit of dual sourcing when it makes sense, but now it is more important than ever given current conditions. We are prepared to pivot quickly if needed,” Scheufele says. “For example, we approved wild ono [wahoo] as a temporary alternative to our wild mahi mahi as mahi has been in short supply this season.” Rubio’s is also testing wild hake (a pollock substitute) at its Arizona restaurants as a precautionary step.
On the operational front, Rubio’s is working to incorporate GS1 global traceability standards and RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology. While conversations around traceability often pertain to food safety, GS1 barcodes can help verify sustainability claims and cut down on so-called greenwashing.
Beyond tracking technology, restaurants are also taking other steps to shorten products’ transit distances. During the pandemic, Rubio’s worked with its distribution partner to optimize freight lines to the restaurants—with locations in California, Nevada, and Arizona—and temporarily trim the number of deliveries when business was slow.